Gwent Police have been instructing people not to remove offensive stickers. They want us to report these items to them instead. I will be ignoring their advice, for three reasons.
'If anyone finds such a poster... leave it to the relevant authority to remove it' Supt Townsend reiterated safety advice that members of the public should not remove the posters if they find them.
"We published a post on one of Twitter accounts on Friday 21 January, asking the public to not remove posters, including those containing offensive material, in the city after sharp objects had been found behind them.
“This public safety message was intended to make the public aware of the dangers of potentially removing a poster, after glass and pins had been stuck behind the posters.
“We would reiterate that if anyone finds such a poster that they leave it to the relevant authority to remove it safely rather than risk injury.”1
1. The risk is low
I have been removing offensive stickers from lamp posts, walls and toilet cubicles since the mid-1980s.
These stickers have included racist, homophobic and sexist messages. I have mashed up stickers (and some posters) from a veritable “who’s who” of British fascism: the National Front, British Movement, British National Party, Blood & Honour, November 9th Society and National Action. On a particularly odd day in the early 1990s, I destroyed several racist stickers in Old Gloucester Street in London that were faked up to look like they were produced by the Class War Federation.
It’s a pastime which continues today, with numerous anti-vaxx, anti-5G and anti-semitic “New World Order” stickers being put beyond use on my daily commute.
My 35 years of one-man sticker removal have been accompanied by many rumours of razor blades or other sharp objects lurking menacingly beneath the adhesive surfaces. Lots of people have heard of this happening and several people have told me that they know people that it happened to. Or actually knew someone that knew someone…
There have been equal amounts of naysayers, who have pointed out quite reasonably that it all feels very much like an urban myth and is eerily similar to malevolent strangers putting pins in halloween candy2 .
The certainty on both sides makes it quite difficult to be objective. Certainly I have never encountered these sharp objects personally, and neither have the majority of comrades I surveyed whilst writing this article3 . But it turns out that some have.
So let me be clear that I am categorically NOT saying that this is simply an urban myth. Some people have encountered sharp objects when removing dodgy stickers, but this seems to be incredibly rare. Some fairly obvious precautions to take are suggested below.
On a purely practical level, adding razor blades or whatever to stickers introduces extra cost and probably slows down the stickerist, which means they are at best able to put less stickers up. At worst it increases their chances of getting hunted down and caught. And if they are, it’s a much more serious matter.
Fozzie’s cultural history of razor blades under stickers
So, what has actually happened? The earliest reference I have found is in 1976:
“NF stickers with razor blades underneath them were stuck to the Labour Party HQ in Kingston, Surrey. An HQ worker was severely cut when he unwittingly attempted to remove them.”4
“Beachcombing’s Bizarre History Blog” has conducted a thorough literature review5 :
“In 1976 razor blades were found behind National Front posters at Warwick University (Coventry Evening Telegraph, 25 May, 10).
In 1983 razors were found behind racist posters in Liverpool (Liverpool Echo, 31 May, 3).
Then in 1986 a student at Brunel University was accused of putting razors behind ‘right wing posters’ (apparently pro-South African: Uxbridge Gazette 7 Aug, 14).“
Coventry Evening Telegraph, May 25 1976
Coventry Evening Telegraph May 26 1976
More comical and personal recollections come from an Anarchist Communist Group comrade6 who recalls:
“In the mid 80s I removed a fash sticker with a razor blade from the subways near Aldgate tube. The thick cunts had stuck it on a light panel so you could actually see the silhouette of the blade underneath, for fuck’s sake.”
We also need to acknowledge some examples of unfounded hysteria, such as this notice from 2018:
Bonus feature: razors in the Royal Mail
There are just as many examples of fascist losers sending razor blades through the post. For me this indicates the lengths these creeps will go to - and their tools of choice.
In 1983, National Front activist Joe Owens was convicted of sending razor blades under the flap of envelopes to prominent Jewish people in Liverpool. He was sentenced to 12 months in prison. 7 .
Graham Paton of the fringe National Socialist Action Party was convicted in 1986 for sending a concealed razor blade to an anti-apartheid activist8 .
According to the Jewish monitoring group the Community Security Trust, Combat 18 were mailing razor blades with their hate literature as recently as 20079 .
Something similar seems to have happened during the Bolton Council elections in the same year, when a candidate from the far right Veritas Party (the UKIP split led by oily orange “personality” Robert Kilroy Silk) was sent a razor blade by an anonymous dickhead claiming to be a BNP supporter 10 .
Sharp objects in the lockdown
The reason I’m writing this now is that there seems to be an increased level of reporting of far right losers stickering, which needs to be opposed.
Alongside this there has been an uptick in reports of sharp objects underneath the stickers:
May 2020 - Razors apparently found under anti-5G stickers in London11
, although it is not clear by who:
An OpenReach spokeswoman said: "We've received reports from other telecommunications companies that anti-5G posters have started to appear on street equipment - particularly in London.
"On closer inspection, the posters have had razor blades and needles stuck on the back. Fortunately none of our engineers have encountered these dangerous items, but we've given them guidance about what to do if they do find any.”
October 2020 – Reports of Nazi nutjobs Hundred Handers being “known to place razor blades behind their stickers – in a bid to injure anyone trying to remove their messages of race hate.”12 But no locations or evidence of this actually happening are given.
July 2021 - Cardiff woman “cut by razor behind anti-mask poster”13 . This did include photos (see above). As of November 2021, South Wales Police was no longer investigating this case.
October 2021 - Razor blades hidden under swastikas stickers from unnamed Nazi twats near a school in Denton Green, Kent.14
2. It is your social duty
The reason why I’ve listed so many examples above is that I think it is important to evidence all this in order to form a balanced view, but categorically not to end up paralysed by fear. In my view we must continue to remove this poison from our communities, but stay safe doing it.
When anti-fascists talk about fighting for control of the streets, this usually conjures up images of glorious pitched battles like Lewisham 7715 or decisive campaigns to remove fascist paper sellers from Chapel Market16 and Brick Lane.
But anti-social groups can operate at a more subtle level in our communities through propaganda. An unblemished sticker, poster or bit of graffiti works in a number of ways. At its basest, it is simply territorial pissing: the fascist activist feels safe enough to wander about affixing messages of hate to street furniture. But slogans on their stickers can also antagonise local residents from marginalised communities and embolden local bigots.
Anti-vaxx stickers from the far right White Rose group can sway vaccine hesitant people into COVID denial and potentially send them down unhelpful anti-5G and “new world order” conspiracy theory wormholes17 .
Some of the first anarchist propaganda I saw was some stickers on lamp posts in the town where I grew up… (and look at me now!)
And anyway, we can’t leave this to the police or local authorities. They have their own agendas and will deploy resources as they see fit. Calls for the police to deal with the problem of anti-social propaganda will almost certainly result in a crackdown on our own comrades for the sake of “balance”.
And as anarchist feminist Mallory Moore points out in her recent article for Freedom, police brutality meted out against our enemies, hardly does us any good either18 .
In short, taking direct action against propaganda from anti-social groups should be part of our day to day work to make our communities better. Like a lot of what we do, it’s hardly going to be the decisive blow against our enemies, but it’s pretty simple and usually doesn’t take much time.
3. “it's easy, it's cheap – go and do it!”
I personally find it quite satisfying discovering a fresh White Rose sticker and then making sure that nobody else will see it. Not least, I’d hope this would be dispiriting for the shitbag who put it up if they walk past again. Better yet when someone else has clearly beaten me to it.
My impression is that people who stick up racist or anti-vaxx nonsense know that they are complete wrong ‘uns and so have to sneak about in the dark or the early morning. In contrast, I take down their material in broad daylight when I’m on my way to the shops.
Bring it on.
Over the years a few people have looked at me quizzically when I’ve been turning a sticker into a pulpy mess - and a few less have opened up a conversation. When I’ve explained what I am doing and why, people have been understanding, congratulatory or at worst just looked at me like I am some kind of weird nerd and not the enigmatic revolutionary I surely am.
The worst outcome was last week when I had a predictably frustrating conversation with an anti-vaccine conspiraloon, but we parted on good terms and he was friendly enough19 .
I will, in the parlance of the day, acknowledge my own privilege here. I’m a reasonably tall, middle aged, nerdy white guy (and not actually a bear, sorry). So I don’t get grief on the street on a daily basis. Everyone will need to weigh up the pros and cons of what action to take for themselves.
Most stickers come off fairly easily with a bit of encouragement from a 50 pence piece or some old keys. I know that some people take tools with them for the job, but I’d be wary of being found with something that could be classed as an offensive weapon or “going equipped”. Covering over stickers with a black marker pen also works. Stickers that are really hard to get off can be covered over with your own propaganda (I don’t like to go too crazy with that personally as a total saturation of stickers about whatever it is makes us look like loons too!). Some sources of decent stickers are:
Autonomous Design Group
Dog Section Press
(I should say that I don't agree with the slogans on every single sticker on offer, personally.)
Have fun - and stay safe!
- 1ITV News 26 January 2022 - Woman arrested after 'offensive' posters with 'glass and pins' stuck behind them found in Newport https://www.itv.com/news/wales/2022-01-26/arrest-after-posters-with-glass-and-pins-stuck-behind-them-found-across-city
- 3Thanks to the comrades on this Urban 75 thread https://www.urban75.net/forums/threads/razor-blades-under-fascist-stickers-myth-or-not.359460/
- 4 Nigel Fielding – The National Front (Routledge 2015, p183)
- 5 http://www.strangehistory.net/2020/12/01/urban-legend-razor-blades-behind-posters/
- 6Speaking in a personal capacity etc etc
- 7Joe Owens – Action! Race War To Door Wars (self-published 2007)
- 8Peter Barberis, John McHugh, Mike Tyldesley, Encyclopedia of British and Irish Political Organizations, 2002, p. 189
- 9The Guardian 2 Feb 2007 - Anti-semitic attacks hit record high following Lebanon war https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2007/feb/02/israelandthepalestinians.religion
- 10The Bolton News 2nd May 2007 - Probe into razor blade hate mail https://www.theboltonnews.co.uk/news/1369107.probe-into-razor-blade-hate-mail/
- 11BBC News 11 May 2020 - Coronavirus: 'Razor blades in anti-5G posters' on telegraph poles https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-52619350
- 12Scottish News 23 October 2020 - Sinister Nazi group hide blades behind stickers in Scotland-wide horror hate campaign https://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/vicious-nazi-groups-razor-blade-22876959
- 13BBC News https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-58020985.amp
- 14BBC News 6 October 2021 - Dunton Green: Razor blades hidden under swastikas near school https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-kent-58814069
- 16Anti-Fascist Action - The Battle For Chapel Market https://libcom.org/library/battle-chapel-market
- 17London Anti-Fascist Assembly - Who are ”The White Rose”? https://network23.org/lafa/2021/11/29/who-are-the-white-rose/
- 18Mallory Moore - Extending solidarity to people who hate us https://freedomnews.org.uk/2022/01/26/extending-solidarity-to-people-who-hate-us/
- 19Again, for completeness, it’s worth acknowledging that fascist Tony Lecomber attacked a Jewish teacher at a tube station in 1991 who he spotted understandably tearing down a BNP sticker. He was sentenced to three years for it. Once again, this seems incredibly unusual.